Clinician Burnout: Maintaining Balance and Resilience

Two healthcare providers in an office looking at a laptop and talking about tools that have helped them reduce burnout and stress.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Read time 5 minutes

Healthcare providers are dedicated people who tend to focus on their patients and work, often to the detriment of their own well-being. Physician burnout is an important issue that has been investigated and monitored frequently in the past and continues to be highly visible and concerning.1,2 A recent survey of over 9,000 US physicians indicated that more than half are burned out and one in five are experiencing depressive symptoms.3 Scientific reviews and yearly studies highlight not only statistics of physician burnout and gaps in knowledge about the situation, but they also attempt to identify the root causes, contributing factors, and impact of burnout in the healthcare community. Recent reporting indicates a need to support the resilience of individual physicians as well as organizations to address problems and systemic challenges within the healthcare culture and medical industry that may contribute to burnout.4,5

Practitioners are encouraged to reflect on their own personal health-related needs in order to protect their valuable coping and caregiving abilities. Burnout is a recognized syndrome characterized by physical and emotional exhaustion due to chronic workplace stress.6 In addition, burnout can include feelings of ineffectiveness, a loss of meaning at work, and reduced personal accomplishment.4 In the following video, IFM educator Lisa M. (Perry) Portera, DC, IFMCP, discusses clinician burnout and the importance of restorative self-care practices.

(Video Time: 2 minutes) With over 30 years of experience in clinical practice, Dr. Portera is a passionate advocate for functional medicine and its application for patients presenting with a wide variety of structural, neuromuscular, and autoimmune-related chronic illnesses.

Burnout: Statistics, Contributing Factors, and Consequence

In the 2023 Medscape Physician Burnout and Depression Report, 53% of the 9,175 responding physicians in over 29 specialties said they felt burnt out (63% of women, 46% of men) and 23% reported feeling depressed.3 Emergency medicine, internal medicine, and pediatric physicians reported the highest burnout at 65%, 60% and 59%, respectively.3 Top factors contributing to burnout included too many bureaucratic tasks, the lack of respect from coworkers, and long hours at work.3 The top coping mechanisms reported were exercise, talking with friends or family members, sleep, and alone time.3 When asked what could help the most to reduce burnout, the top responses included increased compensation, more manageable work and schedules, more support staff, and a greater respect from superiors and coworkers.3

Recent literature suggests that sleep disruption, sleep deprivation, and circadian misalignment may all contribute to physician burnout.7 Loss of social connectedness within the healthcare community is also highlighted as a potential factor, with intervention and support on an institutional level suggested to enhance overall community and well-being.8 In addition, many practitioners continue to cope with anxiety, psychological distress, and depression,9-11 which may contribute to workplace stress.

Consequences of burnout, compassion fatigue, and distress are real and may range from personal crisis to suboptimal patient care practices.12 A 2020 cross-sectional observation study suggested that physician burnout may negatively affect patients’ experience of care.13 In the study, 244 physicians rated their level of burnout on a five-point scale, and these results were analyzed with responses from over 30,000 experience-related surveys completed by patients who had seen those physicians.13 Results indicated that a one-level increase in burnout was associated with a 0.43 level decrease in an adjusted patient-provider communication experience score.13

Resources and Support: From Hobbies and Meditation to PPE

How do clinicians care for themselves? What are the resources for supporting work-life balance, essential self-care, and perseverance during times of sustained stress? Just as with patients, no single answer will work for everyone. Prioritizing close relationships and maintaining a healthy lifestyle by ensuring adequate sleep, regular exercise, fostering hobbies, practicing mindfulness and meditation, and pursuing spiritual development have been noted as potential self-care strategies among clinicians.3,14 Recent studies have suggested positive impacts from this range of self-care approaches:15

  • A 2022 randomized controlled trial evaluated the effects of an online audio mindfulness program.16 The study included 90 medical personnel from Thailand who had reported having moderate or high levels of burnout and stress. Compared to the control program of only reading psychological self-help articles (PSA), the PSA plus the mindfulness program treatment significantly improved burnout, stress, anxiety, mindfulness, and quality of life with moderate-to very large effect sizes at week four as well as week eight.16
  • Further, a 2019 randomized clinical trial pilot of 88 physicians found that participants who received only six sessions of professional coaching had a significant reduction in emotional exhaustion and overall burnout and had improved resilience and quality of life.17

During those times of heightened stress experienced by many healthcare professionals, self-care tools are important for resilience and coping endurance. The American Medical Association (AMA) has updated its suggestions for taking care of caregivers to include building a resilient healthcare organization, monitoring workload redistribution, assessing physician stress levels, reviewing institutional policy and personal protective equipment (PPE) recommendations, and providing emotional and mental well-being resources.18


Large patient volumes, emergency situations, and other life factors may be outside of a clinician’s control; however, implementing personal self-care practices for the protection and maintenance of valuable coping and caregiving abilities is essential for continuing the delivery of quality patient care and ultimately improving patient outcomes. Functional medicine clinicians continue to improve the quality of life for many patients. Lifestyle factors, the fundamental components of functional medicine, are key factors of health for both patients and clinicians. Indeed, one of the core lessons in the practice of functional medicine is to care for yourself while also caring for your patients. In sum, when personal satisfaction is increased, so too is professional satisfaction. Not only will your patients experience better care, you will feel more satisfaction with your practice and may be less likely to experience burnout.

Find out more about prioritizing clinician self-care at IFM’s Applying Functional Medicine in Clinical Practice (AFMCP) and network with other clinicians focused on promoting health, modeling lifestyle change, and working toward a healthier population of patients and clinicians.

Learn More About Functional Medicine

Related Podcast & Articles:

Clinician Burnout: Coping From a Personal and Practice Standpoint

Telemedicine, Legal Concerns, and Your Functional Medicine Practice

A Systems Biology Approach, Physician Burnout, and Functional Medicine


  1. Alkhamees AA, Aljohani MS, Kalani S, et al. Physician’s burnout during the COVID-19 pandemic: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2023;20(5):4598. doi:3390/ijerph20054598
  2. Papazian L, Hraiech S, Loundou A, Herridge MS, Boyer L. High-level burnout in physicians and nurses working in adult ICUs: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Intensive Care Med. 2023;49(4):387-400. doi:1007/s00134-023-07025-8
  3. Kane L. ‘I cry but no one cares’: physician burnout & depression report 2023. Medscape. Published January 27, 2023. Accessed July 27, 2023.
  4. Grimes PE. Physician burnout or joy: rediscovering the rewards of a life in medicine. Int J Womens Dermatol. 2019;6(1):34-36. doi:1016/j.ijwd.2019.12.001
  5. Carrieri D, Pearson M, Mattick K, et al. Interventions to minimise doctors’ mental ill-health and its impacts on the workforce and patient care: the Care Under Pressure realist review. Health Serv Deliv Res. 2020;8(19). doi:3310/hsdr08190
  6. WHO Departmental news. Burn-out an “occupational phenomenon”: international classification of diseases. World Health Organization. Published May 28, 2019. Accessed July 26, 2023.
  7. Kancherla BS, Upender R, Collen JF, et al. Sleep, fatigue and burnout among physicians: an American Academy of Sleep Medicine position statement. J Clin Sleep Med. 2020;16(5):803-805. doi:5664/jcsm.8408
  8. Southwick SM, Southwick FS. The loss of social connectedness as a major contributor to physician burnout: applying organizational and teamwork principles for prevention and recovery. JAMA Psychiatry. 2020;77(5):449-450. doi:1001/jamapsychiatry.2019.4800
  9. Pearman A, Hughes ML, Smith EL, Neupert SD. Mental health challenges of United States healthcare professionals during COVID-19. Front Psychol.2020;11:2065. doi:3389/fpsyg.2020.02065
  10.  Chew NWS, Lee GKH, Tan BYQ, et al. A multinational, multicentre study on the psychological outcomes and associated physical symptoms amongst healthcare workers during COVID-19 outbreak. Brain Behav Immun. 2020;88:559-565. doi:1016/j.bbi.2020.04.049
  11.  Pappa S, Ntella V, Giannakas T, Giannakoulis VG, Papoutsi E, Katsaounou P. Prevalence of depression, anxiety, and insomnia among healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Brain Behav Immun. 2020;88:901-907. doi:1016/j.bbi.2020.05.026
  12.  Zivin K, Van T, Osatuke K, et al. Behavioral health provider burnout and mental health care in the Veterans Health Administration. J Gen Intern Med. Published online May 25, 2023. doi:1007/s11606-023-08235-y
  13.  Chung S, Dillon EC, Meehan AE, Nordgren R, Frosch DL. The relationship between primary care physician burnout and patient-reported care experiences: a cross-sectional study. J Gen Intern Med. 2020;35(8):2357-2364. doi:1007/s11606-020-05770-w
  14.  Sanchez-Reilly S, Morrison LJ, Carey E, et al. Caring for oneself to care for others: physicians and their self-care. J Support Oncol. 2013;11(2):75-81. doi:12788/j.suponc.0003
  15.  Cohen C, Pignata S, Bezak E, Tie M, Childs J. Workplace interventions to improve well-being and reduce burnout for nurses, physicians and allied healthcare professionals: a systematic review. BMJ Open. 2023;13(6):e071203. doi:1136/bmjopen-2022-071203
  16.  Luangapichart P, Saisavoey N, Viravan N. Efficacy and feasibility of the minimal therapist-guided four-week online audio-based mindfulness program ‘Mindful Senses’ for burnout and stress reduction in medical personnel: a randomized controlled trial. Healthcare (Basel). 2022;10(12):2532. doi:3390/healthcare10122532
  17.  Dyrbye LN, Shanafelt TD, Gill PR, Satele DV, West CP. Effect of a professional coaching intervention on the well-being and distress of physicians: a pilot randomized clinical trial. JAMA Intern Med. 2019;179(10):1406-1414. doi:1001/jamainternmed.2019.2425
  18.  Caring for our caregivers during COVID-19. American Medical Association. Updated April 24, 2023. Accessed July 26, 2023.

Related Insights